TORONTO — The first round pick, one of the most valued assets in the Canadian Football League.
Despite the hit-or-miss nature of the CFL Draft, high picks are coveted by front offices and for good reason. They represent youth, untapped potential and the allure of the unknown. And above all, the chance to draft the next big Canadian star.
As the Toronto Argonauts get set to pick first overall, we look back on the last five years of first round picks across the league:
2018: OL Peter Godber (3rd), DL Julien Laurent (7th)
2017: WR Danny Vandervoort (3rd), DL Junior Luke (7th)
2016: OL Charles Vaillancourt (5th)
2015: DL Ese Mrabure (5th)
2014: No first round pick
With four first round picks over the span of two years, the Lions have re-stocked the shelves with intriguing, young Canadian talent — even if they’ve yet to hit a home run.
Last year’s third overall pick Peter Godber could change that this year, as Ed Hervey’s first draft selection as general manager looks to win a starting job this season in training camp and become a foundational pillar of the Lions’ offensive line for years to come. Godber, just 24 years old, filled in at centre last year and started three games as a rookie.
The selection of Julien Laurent seventh overall last year appeared to signal Hervey’s commitment to starting a Canadian on the inside of the Lions’ D-line. Laurent joins 2017 first round pick Junior Luke as defensive linemen picked early in the draft the last two years, and both are expected to make strides and compete for a starting job in camp this spring.
Once highly-touted coming out of Laval, former fifth overall draft pick Charles Vaillancourt hasn’t been able to break out in three years in the league, while 2017 third overall pick Danny Vandervoort has just one catch in two CFL seasons. With the possibility of two Canadian starters at receiver this year in B.C., Vandervoort could see a path to more playing time behind Shaq Johnson and free agent addition Lemar Durant.
Without a first round pick in this year’s draft, the Lions are hoping some of their unproven prospects can increase their roles in 2019.
2018: No first round pick
2017: WR Nate Behar (5th)
2016: WR Tevaun Smith (8th)
2015: OL Danny Groulx (7th)
2014: WR Devon Bailey (6th)
The Eskimos have had little success with their first round picks over the last five years, but there’s some reason for optimism following the off-season signing of Tevaun Smith. The eighth overall pick in 2016, Smith was a highly-touted prospect coming out of Iowa but fell in the draft because of his NFL ambitions. After three seasons in the NFL, the 26-year-old speedster is in line for a big role in Jason Maas’ offence, where he’s projected to fill one of two jobs for Canadian receivers.
Nate Behar, the fifth overall pick in 2017 before missing camp due to a contract dispute, made his first impact on the CFL with the Eskimos last season. But after recording 27 catches for 257 yards, to go with his first professional touchdown, the talented 24-year-old signed with the Ottawa REDBLACKS, where he attended university with the Carleton Ravens.
With the third overall pick at his disposal, Eskimos GM Brock Sunderland has a chance to add a top prospect early in the draft on May 2. Highly-touted defensive linemen Robbie Smith and Mathieu Betts could be on his radar to supplement Canadian star pass rusher Kwaku Boateng, though the Esks’ biggest need is likely on the O-line. Even if the Eskimos opt to start three Americans up front, Matt O’Donnell, now 30, isn’t getting any younger.
2018: OL Ryan Sceviour (8th)
2017: DL Randy Colling (6th)
2016: LB Alex Singleton (6th)
2015: OL Karl Lavoie (9th)
2014: OL Pierre Lavertu (1st), DL Quinn Smith (7th)
Despite a strong track record at the CFL Draft, Stamps general manager John Hufnagel has had some back luck with his first round picks. Budding star Pierre Lavertu was injured and forced to retire after just three seasons, while 2014 draft pick Quinn Smith (free agent), 2015 pick Karl Lavoie (retired) and 2017 choice Randy Colling (released) are also no longer on the team’s roster.
The Stamps also lost former Most Outstanding Defensive Player Alex Singleton to the NFL after just three seasons, though Singleton’s impact on the team has been obvious: he’s anchored a defence that’s led the Stamps to three straight Grey Cup appearances, including a winning effort last November.
Despite the emergence of late-round draft picks Shane Bergman and Brad Erdos as established starters, the Stamps are likely to start three Americans on their O-line in 2019 — but if last year’s first round pick Ryan Sceviour is ready for more playing time, Head Coach Dave Dickenson will have some ratio flexibility up front.
The defending Grey Cup Champions will pick eighth and could go a number of directions, including at receiver where they lost Lemar Durant this off-season to free agency.
2018: OL Dakoda Shepley (5th)
2017: LB Cameron Judge (2nd)
2016: OL Josiah St. John (1st)
2015: REC Nic Demski (6th)
2014: No first round pick
After Cameron Judge took a big step forward in 2018, the Riders hope the same happens with last year’s fifth overall draft pick and offensive lineman Dakoda Shepley, who signed with the team this off-season. Shepley had NFL aspirations last year but is looking to lock down a starting job up front for the Riders. He’ll have his work cut out for him as Philip Blake, Dan Clark, Brendon LaBatte and Dariusz Bladek, coming off a season-ending injury, are all in the mix on the Riders’ interior O-line.
Selected second overall in 2017, Judge made waves in the middle of the Riders’ linebacking corps after missing most of his rookie season. The 24-year-old rotated with Sam Hurl at middle linebacker in Chris Jones’ defensive system, making 41 defensive tackles in addition to two sacks and a forced fumble. If he can become a starter the Riders could have a star in the making at linebacker.
While the return of free agent lineman Josiah St. John hasn’t been ruled out, gifted receiver and returner Nic Demski left after three seasons in Riderville and enjoyed a career year with his hometown Bombers in 2018.
The Riders hold the sixth overall pick in the draft this May and could target a receiver, with this year’s prospect pool boasting plenty of talented pass-catchers and Canadian receiver Jake Harty expected to miss most of the season.
WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS
2018: No first round pick
2017: DL Faith Ekakitie (1st), OL Geoff Gray (8th)
2016: Pick forfeited (2nd)
2015: OL Sukh Chungh (2nd)
2014: OL Matthias Goossen (2nd)
The Bombers hit back to back home runs in the draft with Matthias Goossen and Sukh Chungh in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Both second overall picks, Goossen and Chungh became pillars of one of the CFL’s most dominating O-lines, keeping a clean pocket for Matt Nichols while paving the way for Andrew Harris on the ground.
Unfortunately for GM Kyle Walters neither of those players remains, as Goossen retired this off-season while Chungh signed a lucrative deal with the BC Lions. With 2017 first overall pick Faith Ekakitie released after just one season, highly-touted offensive lineman Geoff Gray is the only remaining Bombers first round pick of the last five seasons.
Walters’ shrewd work outside of the first round has given the Bombers a strong Canadian core despite their losses this off-season (Taylor Loffler also left via free agency), but the focus will be on the hometown product in Gray, who’s spent his last two seasons attempting to land south of the border.
With back to back picks in the first round (fourth and fifth overall), Walters has his options open, but expect the Bombers to try and re-stock the shelves on the O-line.
2018: REC Mark Chapman (1st), OL Darius Ciraco (6th)
2017: DL Connor McGough (4th)
2016: OL Brandon Revenberg (3rd)
2015: No first round pick
2014: LB Beau Landry (8th), DL Evan Gill (9th)
The status of reigning first overall pick Mark Chapman remains a mystery, but the Ticats have already seen returns from their 2019 draft class in the form of Calgary offensive lineman Darius Ciraco. They may just have a homegrown star in the 6-foot-4, 292-pound Burlington native, who started all 18 games despite being just 22 years old in 2018.
With Ciraco and 2016 third overall pick Brandon Revenberg, who’s already signed his second professional contract, the Ticats are built for the long term in the middle of their O-line — but there’s the potential for more on the D-line, especially if 2017 fourth overall pick Connor McGough can one day become a starter. He’s currently behind Canadian pass rushers Jamaal Westerman and Justin Capicciotti on the depth chart.
A year after picking first overall, the Ticats hold the second pick in this year’s draft, giving the new regime an opportunity to add a premiere prospect. Meanwhile, fans hold out hope that Chapman will one day suit up for the Black and Gold, adding another dynamic threat to one of the league’s top groups of pass-catchers.
2018: OL Ryan Hunter (9th)
2017: No first round pick
2016: WR Brian Jones (4th)
2015: OL Sean McEwen (3rd)
2014: RB Anthony Coombs (3rd)
It appears the wait continues for 2018 first round pick Ryan Hunter, the offensive lineman out of Bowling Green who continues to pursue work south of the border. That means the O-line should be a target for veteran general manager Jim Popp this year, as the Argos’ big men, led by Chris Van Zeyl (35), Ryan Bomben (31) and Tyler Holmes (30), could use an injection of youth.
While former fourth overall pick Brian Jones has moved down the QEW to the rival Ticats, the Boatmen hit on back to back first rounders in 2014 in Anthony Coombs and 2015 in Sean McEwen. Both are pillars of their offence as McEwen, 25, anchors the offensive line while Coombs, despite his frustrating injury history, is productive and electrifying when on the field.
The Argos have some ratio flexibility thanks to their ability to start four offensive linemen, and if they want to maintain that long-term, the draft’s true natural tackle in Kyle Saxelid could be chosen and groomed to eventually replace Van Zeyl. Whatever the case, Popp’s decision with the No. 1 pick will have a significant impact on the Argos’ national core moving forward.
2018: OL Mark Korte (4th)
2017: OL Evan Johnson (9th)
2016: OL Jason Lauzon-Seguin (7th)
2015: OL Alex Mateas (1st)
2014: DB Antoine Pruneau (4th)
Since landing in the nation’s capital, Marcel Desjardins has picked an offensive lineman with five of his last six picks. It’s turned out well for the expansion REDBLACKS, who have appeared in three of the last four Grey Cups — including a championship in 2016. The play of quarterbacks Trevor Harris and Henry Burris have played a big role in that success, but the success of the O-line can’t be overlooked.
While 2015 first overall pick Alex Mateas and original 2013 pick Nolan MacMillan have become regular starters, former Laval star and 2016 draft pick Jason Lauzon-Seguin offers versatility in his ability to play guard or tackle. Evan Johnson and Mark Korte, chosen in 2017 and 2018 respectively, have already earned playing time and could press themselves into much greater roles in 2019.
Yes, 2014 first round pick Antoine Pruneau is an outlier, but only because of his position. He’s been impressive though, anchoring the REDBLACKS’ defence from the safety position while providing leadership and experience throughout all three of Ottawa’s trips to the Grey Cup.
Given Ottawa’s depth on the O-line, the REDBLACKS could go a different direction with the seventh overall pick on May 2. Either way, Desjardins has one of the best track records around at the CFL Draft, which explains much of Ottawa’s success since returning to the league.
2018: OL Trey Rutherford (2nd), OL Tyler Johnstone (supplemental draft)
2017: No first round pick
2016: OL Philippe Gagnon (2nd)
2015: DB Chris Ackie (4th), OL Jacob Ruby (8th)
2014: OL David Foucault (5th)
While the Johnny Manziel trade cost the Als some draft picks, the emergence of offensive linemen Trey Rutherford and Tyler Johnstone could negate much of the damage. The Alouettes need both players to become future pillars up front. Rutherford was the second overall pick last year, while Johnstone cost the Als their second overall pick this year as a result of the supplemental draft.
If Johnstone can start at tackle and become a ratio-breaker, and Rutherford can become a staple at guard, the Alouettes’ revamped O-line could pave the way to success on the offensive side of the ball. And the Als are almost banking on it after losing Philippe Gagnon (free agency) and Philip Blake (trade) since last autumn.
Despite not owning a first round pick, General Manager Kavis Reed has the ability to move up in the draft if he chooses as the Als currently own four draft picks in the 13-21 range. Meanwhile, the Alouettes do have some ratio flexibility to their name, especially if they start two Canadian linebackers (Henoc Muamba and Bo Lokombo) and four national O-linemen.
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